The Assault on Mobile Home Rent Control comes to San Juan Capistrano


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Coldren, tanks.

Coldren, tanks.

“When I went to use the restroom during that last break,” attorney Robert Coldren hissed at the overflow courtroom audience, “one of you people called me a ‘dirty greedy son of a bitch!'”

“Did he say ‘you people’?” whispered one of the elderly mobile home owners comprising 95% of the crowd.

Coldren continued:  “And then that gentleman told me, ‘I hope your client’ – my client who, I might add, is a Korean War veteran [that’s park owner Richard Worley who’s just suddenly raised his tenants’ space rents over 100%]  – ‘I hope your client burns in Hell.‘  And then he finished up by telling me to ‘GO FUCK MYSELF.‘  And I got this man’s photograph.”

bruce stanton“I realize tempers are high,” added the tenants’ lawyer Bruce Stanton (left), “but IF THIS REALLY HAPPENED, guys, please don’t do that, it’s making my job harder.  If you have anything to say, just say it to me please.”

Maybe that happened, maybe it didn’t, maybe Coldren just made it up (we didn’t see the photo) but high tempers were understandable – residents of the El Nido Mobile Estates, all of them seniors, many there for decades, were just handed a sudden $641 rent increase – over 100%.  And this in a town with a rent control ordinance on mobile home parks since 1979 – keeping the yearly increases tied to the Consumer Price Index – 1 to 3%.

But Coldren, whom we’ve already met in our Huntington Beach story from last year, has been on a crusade against mobile home rent control for years, up and down the Golden Coast – against attempts to institute it, as well as trying to defang already existing rent control ordinances.  A victory in San Juan Capistrano, the only south county city with such an ordinance, making that ordinance out to be a toothless hippie vestige of the last century, would go a long way in his crusade.

88-year-old Worley is not saying where he suddenly got the idea to more-than-double his old tenants’ rent;  was he approached by Coldren, or does he have kids or grandkids who are impatient with the modest profit he’s been making off El Nido?   It would be nice to know but we don’t.

capataI was able to catch the first few hours of the hearings, where each opposing lawyer brought up their “expert witness” to testify that the rent increase was fair and reasonable or not.   Coldren’s witness was CPA and former Laguna Niguel councilman/mayor, Gary Capata (right), a man who firmly believes that it is wrong, “confiscatory,” for a landlord not to make as much off his property as he possibly can.  Mr. Capata, who has testified in over a dozen such cases, always on the landlord’s side, repeatedly compared the lower  rents heretofore charged at El Nido with higher rents in southern OC that don’t have rent control;  opined that not only was the $641 hike “fair and reasonable” but that anything up to $830 also would be, and any hike LESS than $300 would be “confiscatory;”  and also made an interesting point that got me thinking:

As Capata puts it, rent control in a mobile home park confers “value” from the park owner to the home owner.  Check it out:  several tenants have been able to sell their homes along with their rent-controlled spaces for big bucks – like, $400K – because the buyer really values getting a rent-controlled space.  Big profit there that the park owner isn’t seeing.  Maybe that’s not fair.  Although, as he says, “vacancy de-control” would ameliorate that situation – meaning, rent-control would no longer be in effect when a home is sold.

I unfortunately had to leave soon after the tenants’ “expert,” the ineffable Kenneth K. Barr, took the stand.  But a few facts seem unavoidable:

  • Worley’s increase is disallowed by SJC’s 1979 rent-control ordinance, unless laws are just jokes;
  • Worley knew about that ordinance when he purchased the property, and should have been content with the modest profits he’s made ever since;
  • And each tenant/homeowner who moved in knowing of the ordinance took that into consideration moving in there;  to pull the rug out from them now would be not only inhumane but a major swindle.

And Worley seemed pretty resigned that same morning when he talked to FOX 11’s Vikki Vargas:  “I guess we’ll take whatever they give us,”  he mumbled, just like someone who’s been buttonholed for a crusade he wanted no part of.  Here’s how it works:  Michael Roush, the “hearing officer” who led last week’s hearing as a sort of  judge, will report his recommendation to  SJC’s Housing Advisory Committee, which will in turn report their recommendation to City Council, all hopefully before the outrageous rent increase goes into effect Sept. 6.  Keep coming back to the Orange Juice for more updates.  This Mobile Home War, a subsidiary of America’s Class War, is heating up ALL OVER the county, and we have a lot to tell you!

El Nido fighters

El Nido fighters

 


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.